Leaders of zebra chip disease research honored with AgriLife Vice Chancellor’s award

COLLEGE STATION – The Zebra Chip Leadership Team has been named as the Texas A&M AgriLife Vice Chancellor’s Award in Excellence recipient in the partnership category.

The honor was presented Jan. 8 during the Texas A&M AgriLife Conference in College Station. The Vice Chancellor’s Awards in Excellence were established in 1980 to recognize the commitment and outstanding contributions of faculty and staff across Texas A&M AgriLife and provide an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of those honored.

The Zebra Chip Leadership Team consists of Dr. Charlie Rush, Texas A&M AgriLife Research plant pathologist, Amarillo; Dr. Creighton Miller, horticulture and genetics, AgriLife Research, College Station; Dr. James Supak, Texas Zebra Chip Program coordinator, AgriLife Research, College Station; Dr. Neil Gudmestad, North Dakota State University plant pathologist, Fargo, N.D.; and Dr. John Trumble, University of California, entomology, Riverside, Calif.

These scientists became involved with zebra chip of potato and formed a team to provide leadership and guidance for a much larger group of scientists when this disease grew to national and international importance, the nomination stated.

Zebra chip is a disease of potatoes caused by a bacterium and carried by the potato psyllid. The disease was named for the characteristic striping and discoloration in potato chips produced from infected tubers. It affects all market classes of potato by reducing both yield and quality, and was first identified in the U.S. in Texas in 2000.

According to the nomination, by 2008 zebra chip had been detected in California, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. It has also been identified in several countries in Central America, Mexico and New Zealand.

“CSS Farms is probably the single biggest victim of the ZC problem in the USA so far, incurring huge financial losses in 2007 and 2008,” said Milt Carter, CEO of CSS Farms, Watertown, S.D., in a letter of support. “At that time, we did not know what caused the disease or what the vector was for sure. Fortunately, the Zebra Chip Leadership team was able to put together an integrated team to work on this problem.

“As a result of their efforts, CSS Farms was able to develop a complete set of new, integrated strategies for controlling potato psyllids and ZC that has been effective over the past three years – including the extremely high pressure psyllid year in 2010. We are very fortunate to have people like Charlie Rush, John Trumble, Neil Gudmestad, James Supak and Creighton Miller providing practical, immediately applicable solutions for this problem.”

According to the nomination, zebra chip threatened the very survival of the Texas potato industry by 2007, prompting the Texas Legislature to provide $2 million for a Texas Zebra Chip Research Initiative for the 2008-2009 biennium, with Supak leading the effort.

Then, in 2008, Rush, Miller, Gudmestad and Trumble spearheaded an effort to write a successful U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crops Research Initiative Grant for $6.9 million that would allow a comprehensive approach to the zebra chip problem.

The two groups began to work closely together to make sure the research and Extension efforts of the federal program didn’t overlap with those of the state initiative, the nomination stated. In this way, the Zebra Chip Leadership Team was formed and they now coordinate the majority of all zebra chip related research and Extension activity in the U.S.

“Coordination and leadership of these research and Extension activities in Texas and throughout the U.S. is no small task,” said Dr. John Sweeten, AgriLife Research resident director in Amarillo, in making the nomination.

Together, the Texas initiative and the federal program include more than 30 multidisciplinary scientists, representing seven universities and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service from seven states. The Texas program also coordinates with the Texas Department of Agriculture.

In order to guarantee the desired level of input and interaction between zebra chip scientists and clientele, the leadership team established an advisory board of potato growers and processors, state and federal government officials and commodity leaders with a vested interest in solving the zebra chip problem.

“Perhaps the best indication of the success the Zebra Chip Leadership Team has achieved in merging the activities and interests of the research community with those of their clientele is the annual reporting session,” Sweeten said. “It is regarded as the primary venue to learn about zebra chip research progress and meet those actually involved in dealing with the disease.”

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